By Chido Nwakanma
IT is important to examine the critical submissions of the governor of one of our A-list states amid the din over the control of VAT remittances between the states and the Federal Government. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa spoke with candour and avuncular advocacy on federalism, resource control and the political direction of Nigeria. His prescriptions are worth interrogation for their substance and import.
Governor Okowa spoke on August 25 at the 2021 annual lecture and symposium of the Ripples Centre for Data and Investigative Journalism. His submissions? “The absence of a national ideology that all the component parts of the country subscribe to is why we are yet to forge that sense of oneness(in Nigeria). In the absence of a shared national vision or aspiration, primordial loyalties and sentiments largely hold sway among the various ethnic nationalities that constitute the country”.
The Delta State governor expanded on the point. “The Americans have the American Dream, the British, Rule Britannia, while, in recent times, the United Arab Emirate has developed a vision to be the biggest and the best in everything she does. What can we point to as Nigeria’s overarching vision that motivates the average citizen or that everyone aspires to actualise? How can we have and pursue an overarching vision when we think Fulani or Hausa or Yoruba or Igbo instead of Nigeria?”
Okowa is a tested politician who has traversed the terrain in Delta State. He was a senator and ran the engine room of the Delta State bureaucracy as secretary to the government. His courage is in the mindfulness of the proverb about the pointing finger. The call for an ideological direction for the country is bold and ingenious for going against the grain of current orthodoxy that imagines the death of ideology.
Across the world, the paradigm is that ideology is dead, long live the nation-state. Francis Fukuyama celebrated the assumed triumph of capitalism and the death of competing ideologies in The End of History and The Last Man (1992). Ideology hardly gets a mention in Nigerian political discourse of the Fourth Republic.
This is a departure from the days of the founding fathers who articulated visions of their desired ideologies for the country. We grew up discussing the ideological pronouncements of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano and later Ibrahim Waziri. They took their cue from the ideological battle between socialism and capitalism dominant in the years before the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union.
What is ideology? The dictionary gives a simple definition of ideology as “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy”. Ideology is a political economy perspective. It has strong foundations in the economy and modes of production. Unfortunately, the character of the Nigerian economy today depends on external forces rather than a conscious strategic choice of the leadership.
Ideology also requires a national or dominant consensus. It is welcome though that Okowa has pointed to this gap. Governor Okowa needs to deepen the discourse by serving as pathfinder. What should be the Nigerian Ideology?
Okowa’s further submissions include that: •Election results should also be transmitted electronically at the point of counting the votes at the polling units to remove the opportunities for later alterations of figures.
• Establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with members from the six zones.
• Electing in 2023 a truly national leader. “We need a selfless, sacrificial, sincere, broadminded and capable president that will be a unifying force for all Nigerians; a leader who values merit over mediocrity, competence over cronyism, while upholding the fundamental principles of fairness, equity, and justice.”
• Reducing the power of the centre. “The devolution of powers and resources to the subnational governments, and the guaranteeing of a constitution that allows equity, justice for all and inclusiveness in governance such that none is left out or oppressed is imperative”.
Nigeria has battled from foundation with “issues of mutual distrust, suspicion, prejudice, with the various ethnic nationalities locked in battles for supremacy or minority rights. The early attempts to break up Nigeria derived from the above issues.” Okowa fingered “bad governance at different levels of government” for the current “disunity in the land”. Bad governance is foundational as Nigeria fails to observe the constitutional stipulations of running a state based on democracy and social justice as well as ensuring the security and protection of citizens.
Then he zeroes in on the current debate. “Disunity also stems from the failure of the Constitution to support federalism”. Two pointers to anti-true federalism are in the Constitution. The lopsided revenue allocation and the inequitable power structure that means states cannot create local governments but must pass it through a headmaster at the centre is an example the governor identifies.
There is also the “disenchantment and alienation of youths. Truth be told, many of our youths see no future for themselves in this country. This was why the EndSARS protest of 2020, which began as a protest of police brutality, quickly snowballed into a mass movement against a country that has failed them”.
Finally, there is “lack of faith in the electoral process” resulting in apathy and self-disenfranchisement. Still, Nigeria is “better and stronger together” rather than giving in to fissiparous tendencies. The call for a Nigerian Ideology requires a contest of ideas that has been lacking. Okowa has thrown the gauntlet. It is worth engaging.